The Dirt Master: Neil Strauss Talks Rockers, Hookers, Drugs and Getting Hate Mail from his Ultimate Nemesis, Phil Collins
You'll be seeing a lot in the blogosphere and beyond about Neil Strauss' revealing new book, Everyone Loves You When You're Dead, (out this week). The tome reveals shocking things about -and intimate moments with- the author's vast array of interview subjects over the years: Lady Gaga bawling over an ex-boyfriend, Courtney Love considering snorting Kurt Cobain's ashes ala Keith Richards (this one's already making the gossip site rounds) , Dave Navarro's penchant for $2000 hookers, Marilyn Manson's grave gigging jollies (Strauss co-wrote MM's autobio, "Long Hard Road Outta Hell"), Julian Casablancas' dickishness, Snoop Dogg blunt bonanzas (okay the last three aren't so shocking) and various rock stars' beefs, fetishes (peeing, toes), and penchants for drugs and booze... which, by the way, no one chose to hide while they were being recorded and observed for press!
But there are a couple things you won't hear about or see just yet, and we've scored some exclusives that go beyond the new dirt (The Dirt is the name of Strauss' debauched Motley Crue bio).
Read an excerpt held from advance review copies and exclusive scoop on the one item Strauss had to leave out for legal reasons, plus, some insightful words from the prolific writer, interviewer (and pickup artist):
Though Strauss owns the rights to all his stories for both Rolling Stone and The New York Times (which make up the bulk of exceprts in ELYWYD), he was not able to include one very important piece of writing in his scandalous new anthology because, though it belongs to him, it wasn't actually written by him. It means so much to him, he has it framed in the office of his swanky LA home off of Laurel Canyon.
It's a hate letter. From Phil Collins.
Though he chose to leave it out, we read it, and can tell you that long before Mr. Sussudio declared his music career dead (and apologized for his success) he was displaying a similar type of snarky self-deprecation and rancor for his critic(s) via the letter. It's very long, hand written (on Peninsula Hotel stationery) and it ends with, "Well Neil, Fuck You" (quoted on the back of the new book).
A revelation that did make the book's pages, though not the press version (why you probably haven't heard about it yet): an encounter Strauss had with an almost-famous Paris Hilton back in 1999, during which she takes a hit of E at a party, and begins to brag about her boob job at 14 (her mom made her remove them), a possible pose for Playboy, and a would-be conquest that didn't happen because, well, just read the excerpt.
This is not the first time we've heard that Ms. Hilton is, shall we say, discriminatory in certain situations. Mark Ebner's "Six Degrees of Paris Hilton" makes similar claims, but that was a tabloidy tell-all. This portrayal, included alongside so many big name profiles, will surely have more weight.
Note, the title of the section after the Hilton passage.
Strauss has structured ELYWYD in a peculiar way: Inspired by theatre acts, each passage is followed by a related or referenced passage. Hence Christina Aguilera talking about her childhood abuse is followed by an Ike Turner passage, Gwen Stefani remembering dropping out of college, leads into Trent Reznor talking about dropping out as well, NWA members speaking about Easy-E are followed by Lionel Richie talking about his best friend dying from AIDS, and so forth. Not only does this set-up make the book a bonafide page-turner, it's an added layer of perspective Strauss provides, a way for him to put everything he writes about in context (fame, his subject's personal quirks and facades, inspirations and relationships).
"I looked at every anthology I could find and none of them were readable from back to front as a book," he tells us. "When I was done. I was tired of the writer. So I thought how could I come up with a format that's engaging and interesting."
It's hard not have a meta moment while interviewing a master interviewer such as Strauss. After all, he has the career any music journalist would sell his soul for, or as he posed to Reznor, "pull the wings off a butterfly" for: countless covers for RS, regular NYT review gigs and a few best sellers on the paper's own book list. After we chatted for a while (with the tape recorder off) he told us he usually keeps the recorder on, even during warm-up chit-chat. Ah-ha. Note to self: don't take notes, record everything.
Not surprisingly, the transcribing process for ELYWYD "took forever," he says. He had every interview re-transcribed for the book, and this time, aimed to get "every cough, every time they stumble or stutter their words. Every interchange, someone interrupting the moment... I wanted to capture it all like a play. "
And while the new comb-thru of these mostly already-seen interviews gives them more depth, what makes them more fascinating than before is how they're edited together and what they portray about each person as time has now passed.
Snoop Dogg in the beginning of the book is different than Snoop later, Aguilera's obnoxious when he/we first meet(s) her, but later, she reveals her vulnerability. Some of the passages are from the same interview, some done years later and in the cases of stars Strauss doesn't feature more than once, he provides background about what they did or didn't do afterward.
"My favorite thing is, anyone who's ever said to me in an interview-- I'm not going to do those cliché things. I'm not going to move to LA. I'm going not start dating models," he relates. "Look at them now, and they're all engaged to a model and living in LA. Everyone who says that. "
Strauss' other best-sellers include Emergency (about how to survive under nearly every circumstance imaginable-- it'll surely see a resurgence in the wake of Japan's recent tragedy and impending nuclear radiation fears) and The Game (about the pick-up artist community, which features lots more about Love, who stayed at Strauss' home for a while).
Did Strauss (who still appears to do pretty well for himself where the ladies are concerned) employ pick-up techniques in his interviewing practices, we wonder? "To the letter," he tells us, listing off everyone from Britney Spears to the White Stripes to Tom Cruise and even Madonna herself.
"Not for sex, but for the purpose of creating a connection," says Strauss, adding that during a more recent interview with Gaga, she told him she uses it as well. "I use 'demonstrating value,' which is a way to stand out, impress. Another is, talking to somebody else. You know if you really like someone, you talk to her friends. So I brought her [Madonna's] entourage into the conversation. At the end of the interview she counted on her fingers the things she had learned from me. "
So did we.
Learn a lot more about your favorite celebrities In "Everyone Loves You When You're Dead" including: who had the biggest ego (Joni Mitchell!), who talked a lot about sex (Chuck Berry), who doesn't allow tape recorders (Prince) and what attractive female singer he got to interview under the covers in bed (we'll let you read the book for that one).
Read more about Strauss and his books here.
Book release bash for "Everyone Loves You When You're Dead" at the Viper Room with Har Mar Superstar, The Weekend Pilots, No More Kings and Lucha VaVoom burlesque dancers on March 25.
Follow Lina Lecaro on Twitter at @L_in_A.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.